Ikọ (Dr) Uche E. Aaron Otumu me usen Usem Obolo2

It is not for nothing that the Federal Government of Nigeria created a National Policy on Education that stipulates that the medium of instructionfor the first three years of a child’s education should be the language of the immediate environment.

All these proposals and positive results have also been experienced in Obolo land through the Literacy track of OLBTO. By 1984, the Oboloorthography was fully developed, and published by the Nigerian Educational and Development Council (NERDC) in 2000. In 1985, under the auspices of Mrs. Maria Aaron, the Literacy Consultant, the first Reader (AdasiIkpaObolo) was drafted, tested and published under the Rivers Readers Project. In accordance with the National Policy on Education, and with the cooperation of the Local Government Education authorities, OLBTO tested the Reader and taught Obolo in Primary Schools.Teachers were trained to teach Obolo, and a few of the schools were adopted as Pilot Schools. The Pilot Schools were more monitored, and had many more trained teachers than the ordinary schools.In 1986, the second Reader (IkpaOboloÒsoIba) was published, and the third Reader (Gwun̄ OgwuObolo (the Obolo Child)), was published in 1993. Each one of these had its own Scheme of Work and Teachers Notes. For the training of teachers, a Workshop Guide was published. Readers for Elementary Four to Six are currently being developed and tested. For Junior Secondary school and public readership, MbubanÎchaka (a literature book), has been published. Other supplementary publications include the Alphabet Chart, Reading and Writing Obolo, IkpaUrọk (book of folktales), many editions of Ida Obolo (voice of Obolo magazine), many editions of Ida OboloEyiNsabọn (magazine for children) which is made up of articles and stories written by school children themselves. The Obolo Dictionary is in the pipeline, at an advanced stage. One very special contribution is the AyaIfuk (new counting system). Through this, numeracy(in base ten) is established in Obolo language.  Today, in Obolo language, it is possible to count from one to trillion. This is something that is not possible in many Nigerian languages. The counting system is published both as a chart to be hung on walls, and as a booklet for children to carry around in their pockets. All these publications are documented in the book of the history of OLBTO. These, and many other publications not mentioned above, are present here on display and for sale.

Threenotable resultsemanated from all these efforts in the area of Literacy, as empirical data that confirm the findings of UNESCO. First, in 1990, there was an English Essay Contest written by Elementary Six pupils from the four units of the Bonny LGA (namely Obolo, Opobo, Nkoro, and Bonny), in Bonny town.  By that time, the pupils who had started to learn basic literacy in Obolo language from Elementary One in our pilot schools were then in Elementary Six. So, these were the ones who wrote the essay. When the results were published, all the three prizes were won by Obolo pilot schools closest to the OLBTO office, where the pilot teachers were directly involved.

Secondly, in 1991, a doctoral candidate of the University of Port Harcourt (PH), Mrs. Abigail Afiesimama, working under the supervision of Prof. Kay Williamson, chose for her PhD Thesis topic, “Linguistic Complexity in Rivers State: Implications for Language Use in Primary Education.” Her focus was on the implementation of the National Policy on Education as it affects the Language of the Immediate Environment in Rivers State, then comprising the present Rivers and Bayelsa States. For her data, she collected English essays with the topic, “My School,” from Primary Six in all the thirteen LGAs in  the then Rivers State. Her hypothesis was that the best performing school would be a PH urban elite school, followed by a PH urban poor school (i.e. any ordinary government primary school in PH) because of the dominant use of the English language in various aspects of life in the urban area. She then postulated that the performance would diminish progressively with distance from PH, the State headquarters. This meant that the farthest removed schools from PH would be the worst performers.  At that time, Obolo schools were the second farthest removed schools in the state, which meant that they were destined to be the second poorest performers. Afiesimama made the Obolopupils to also write the same essay in Obolo language. When the essays were graded, in accordance with her hypothesis, the University of Port Harcourt Demonstration Primary school, an urban elite school, came first. But after that, the unexpected happened. The second best school was an Obolo pilot school, and the third was also another Obolo school. After that, the next best performer was a PH urban poor school, and the rest of the results followed exactly in accordance with the postulations in her hypothesis. So, in the whole state, Obolo schools, where basic literacy was taught in the Obolo language before transition into English, came second and third in the whole of Rivers State (i.e. the present Rivers and Bayelsa States). Also, apart from the Obolo schools, no other school was able to write the essay in their own language. From this, it is very clear that when a child acquires basic literacy in his/her mother tongue, it is easy to transfer such skills to, and excel in literacy, in any other language. These and other details were documented by Mrs. Maria Aaron (1994, and 1996).

Thirdly, in attestation of the authenticity of UNESCO’s recommendation that the use of the mother tongue be extended to as late a stage in education as possible, there is an empirical data that confirms the importance of using Obolo language as medium of instruction at a higher level. The National Teachers Institute (NTI) authorized the Obolo Literacy personnel to teach the course entitled, Linguistic Studies of the Language of the Immediate Environment, at their branch at Ngo, headquarters of Andoni LGA, in fulfilment of the requirements of the National Policy on Education.  As a result of this, the students at NTI, Ngo, are testifying to the fact that they understand English grammar better after hearing the same topics taught in Obolo.At first, the class was usually small because the students did not think that Obolo language had anything to contribute to their learning experience. But now, many more students are joining the class and their results are better by far than ever before.

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